28 Mar 2005
Some workers of Flour Mills Nigeria PLC, one of the leading agro-allied companies in Nigeria, have been victimised by this company while fighting for improved working conditions and the compensation for a co-worker who died while working at the company on Wednesday 9th March 2005. While bagging fertilizer (which is his share of work) he started coughing and vomiting blood, he was rushed to a nearby clinic where he died.
The deceased worker and his colleagues were working under intense inhuman conditions, i.e. working in a crowded room without ventilation, working without protective equipment or materials such as nose-guards, helmets, hand gloves, boots, overalls etc., while producing and bagging fertilizers which is a very dangerous chemical to the human lungs and body generally.
The said workers were working as casual labourers, and as such were denied access to the company’s clinic and staff canteen. Some of the victimised workers have been working for Flour Mills for up to six years as casual labourers. The company lays these workers off at will every three months and then re-employs them. The company collects these workers’ old identity cards and then issues them new identity cards. The reason they are sacked three months later is so they do not have to be paid them employment benefits and every other entitlements due to staff of Flour Mills. This is a deliberate policy of Flour Mills to reduce costs and maximise profits at the expense of the lives of the poor and oppressed workers who toil endlessly to create stupendous wealth for the already rich capitalists that run and control the means of production at Flour Mills.
These workers were compelled to slave from 7am to 7pm under some of the worst inhuman conditions. The victimised workers, due to these crude inhuman methods and conditions, could not afford good food and good medical check ups. They had to work extremely hard [two workers would be assigned to load a trailer vehicle with several hundred bags of fertilizers] to earn the wage that could barely sustain them for 15 days in a working month, as most of them live very far and had to spend most of their wages on transportation.
While the victimised workers were peacefully protesting the death of their colleague, the management invited policemen armed with guns, rifles and tear-gas canisters to disperse the protesters. In the process one of the protesters was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister, and was promptly rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment, he is still nursing the injury sustained. Five of the protesters namely: Segun Taiwo, Sunday Orefuwa, Olaseni Olawale, Wusu Bayo and Abraham Hundamamo were arrested and detained by the police and were charged to court, their case comes up for hearing on the April 8th 2005.
The colleagues of the detained workers went to collect money and hired a lawyer to help effect the release of their colleagues from the police cell where they were detained. But they were able to effect the release of three out of the five workers because they have not been able to raise enough money to bail out all those detained by the police.
Members of the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) are fully involved in pursuing the collective struggles of the victimized workers to a logical conclusion.
On Tuesday 22nd March 2005, 7 members of the CDWR with about 70 victimised workers went to the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) secretariat for a meeting with both the management of Flour Mills and the NLC. We invited the print and electronic media to cover the event; we helped the victimised workers prepare placards expressing their plights and demands. The media houses and especially the newspapers came to cover the event. The press interviewed some CDWR members and the leader of the victimised workers. At the NLC secretariat, we learnt that the Flour Mills management had issued a circular, that did not get to the victimised workers, saying that they could not attend and that the meeting should be postponed till Tuesday 5th April 2005 at the NECA office, Elephant house, Ikeja, Lagos.
We met and discussed with the leader of the National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather, and Non-metallic Product Employees, which the victimised workers were supposed to be affiliated with if they did have a union. Pictures of the injured worker and that of other victimised workers working under very inhuman working conditions were shown to all present. He vented his anger at the Flour Mills management and assured us that if the Flour Mills management refused to heed to our demands and improve the working conditions of the victimised workers that collectively, the union shall picket the Flour Mills premises for as long as possible to force the company’s management to improve working conditions. The CDWR have called the victimised workers to meet held twice before Tuesday 5th April to prepare and plan for this meeting between the workers and the Flour Mills management.
We in the CDWR totally condemn the inhuman acts of both the Flour Mills management and the police for conniving to unjustly punish peaceful, defenceless workers who were exercising their legal rights to stage peaceful protests while fighting for their rights in general. Systematic and indefinite casualisation of workers is against labour laws both in Nigeria and internationally. We call on all workers nationally and internationally to stand in solidarity with their comrades at Flour Mills to condemn and indict the management of Flour Mills Nigeria PLC for its policies of casualisation, victimisation, and subjection of workers to inhuman treatment of all sorts and methods.
The CDWR calls for support of labour and all labour organisations both nationally and internationally to come up to the aid of the embattled Flour Mill workers politically and materially. Labour organisations should help picket the Flour Mills, boycott the use of their products, and assist financially in prosecuting the criminal charges against the 5 workers currently standing trial for organizing a peaceful protest against inhuman working conditions.
Among other things the workers demand:
* Unconditional release and compensation of all detained victimised workers.
* The family of the deceased worker should be adequately and financially compensated.
* An end to victimisation and molestation of workers
* All charges against the workers arrested and detained must be dropped unconditionally.
* The right for workers to have a democratic union to defend and fight for workers rights should be granted.
* Production target and working hours should be reduced for all workers.
* Working environment should be made conducive with good ventilation, workers should be provided with adequate protective materials etcetera.
* Canteen and Medical facilities should be made available for all workers to eat well and have periodic. Compulsory check ups to ascertain their health conditions.
* All the victimised workers in employment should be confirmed as permanent staff unconditionally with a right to all welfare benefits, while the company’s casualisation policy must be stopped immediately.
* Staff buses should be provided to transport workers to and from work on a daily basis.
Aluta continua! Victoria acerta!
Comrade Victor Osakwe